With over 50 neighborhoods in Manhattan and countless more in the five boroughs, a weekend getaway shouldn’t be confined to Greenwich Village. WSN’s new travel column, Weekend Roam, takes you beyond our Greenwich Village campus to explore, try new things, and become acquainted with your new home. Follow Helen Holmes, a new freshman in the city and deputy features editor, every Friday as she crosses locations off her map. First stop: Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
There was a certain point during my brief Saturday jaunt to Greenpoint, Brooklyn, when I felt completely relaxed for the first time in weeks.
All the stress of purchasing textbooks, writing articles and doing homework melted away as I stepped into the changing room at Fox and Fawn, a cozy local vintage shop, with a beautiful coral dress, eager to try it on. I drew the curtain and started humming along with the retro-indie soundtrack that pumped over the speakers. I was standing in my underwear when it happened — something small but substantial brushed against my leg. I shrieked, picturing peeping toms, and looked down. It was a very curious French bulldog wearing a sweater.
Stuff like this, I quickly learned, tends to just happen when you’re in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Like the borough as a whole, Greenpoint is a strange and mystical island unto itself, divided from Manhattan only by a brief, ear-popping subway ride and a noticeable gap in cultural ideologies.
It’s a place where you can stop for coffee and peruse free newspapers. It’s also a town where the hippest of wood smoke-scented bars like Enid’s, a brunch hot spot, contain patrons so varied in appearance that they remind you of your high school’s freshman year ice cream social.
And if you’re the sort of person that plans every excursion with Google Map precision, forget it. This neighborhood requires your willingness to let the unusually gusty wind blow you where it may, and it introduces you to a diverse group of folks.
Take Eric Downs, owner of Brooklyn Woodwind and Brass, the only shop in the borough that sells and repairs jazz instruments. Every day he sees new faces walk through his doors. In addition to keeping things on track at his shop, Downs tunes the trumpet of Zach Condon, member of the acclaimed indie-rock band Beirut.
“I’ve lived here for a while now, so I run into all kinds of people working here,” Downs said. “Just now, I was talking to a teacher who was here looking for toy-type instruments for her elementary school kids. There was a guy who sold me didgeridoos last weekend.”
Diligent Wikipedia research before my visit enlightened me to Greenpoint’s rich industrial history. In the 19th century, the former farm town became a mecca for shipbuilding, pottery, printing and glass work. And this layered past is still evident in the neighborhood’s architecture, layout and residents.
“It’s a mix of eclectic young people and an enduring Polish contingent,” said Marissa Johnson of Bed-Stuyvesant. “[Greenpoint] used to be a no-man’s land, but now it has become a destination spot for Williamsburg kids.”
As I wandered closer and closer to the waterfront, the elegant brownstones and towering stainless steel apartment buildings melted away, leaving behind unfriendly brick warehouses with creative things spray painted on them. A nice couple walking their dog asked me if I was lost. I suppose I must have looked it, even though I had only paused to Instagram.
But Greenpoint’s contrast didn’t end with its architecture. It was a common thing to see a bargain sports-attire emporium next to a hipster-fodder bar. And when I came upon a familiar Dunkin’ Donuts, I felt comforted and was eager for their hot chocolate. Unfortunately, I didn’t even get near the door. An odd-looking young man in glasses approached me and said, “Excuse me, it’s a very cold day, do you think I could ask you to do me the favor of warming my heart?” I sighed. “I really don’t think I could help you,” I said. “I’m a very cold-hearted person.”
True to my word, I turned my back on him and strode into Brooklyn Woodwind and Brass to buy my boyfriend a harmonica.
Helen Holmes is deputy features editor. Email her at email@example.com.
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